My Life, Part Two

Photo of a Georgetown intersection at night

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Karim via Flickr.

My world started to change with the deaths in my family. There were many yelling and screaming matches. Sometimes in a rage, my dad would smack my mom, me and my brother. I started to become different. I started getting brutal whippings. I still have the scars from some of the switches.  

My saddest moment, and I still cry, is when my dad moved me out of Ohio and went out to New Jersey, first to Linden, then Elizabeth, then Roselle. The earliest memories of New Jersey were of the projects. There was no sense of families. Many didn’t even have fathers and the kids would do all kinds of mischief. My dad was a landlord so I would get jumped because my dad evicted people. I hated North Jersey and I cried every day.  

My nightmare got worse when my father took me away from living around people who looked familiar. At the time I never even knew I was different because everyone was the same color as me. In 1972 I moved out from the city to a town called Toms River, New Jersey. We were the first black family and I was not for pioneering. I got into fights was called nigger and Kunta. Sometimes I wished I had my Cambridge rifle. I was isolated. My schooling suffered and almost dropped out. Because of the racial torment it affected me for awhile.  

Even though I didn’t make a whole lot of friends in Toms River, I did bond with people when it came to fishing and music. I loved fishing on the Jersey shore I got thrills when I caught bonitoes, sharks and all the fish that ran through the Atlantic Ocean. I first started drinking and getting high on the fishing boats of Point Pleasant, New Jersey. We would go off shore to catch fish, get paid and to show how macho or foolish I was. I would drink, play poker or shoot pool to get someone else’s money.  

Then tragedy struck me in the eighties. First in 1984, my grandma died. Then my other grandmother died a few months later. Then my great grandparents died in 1985. I got to see my cousins but when we went back to New Jersey, I missed them. I eventually withdrew smoking, doing acid and just getting high. I was truly alone. I didn’t care about the future because I thought I was in hell.  

My parents tried but never understood how I hated living in Toms River. Soon after graduation I joined the service and I distanced myself from my parents but my mom was everything. I soon missed her, got out of the service and stayed with her. She started getting sick. She had heart disease and passed 1992.  

I really became sad but my relationship with my father got better. I realized I was being manipulated but I was in no condition to be on my own. I helped my dad out and sacrificed my life staying with my father. 

My brother had tragedy by losing his first girlfriend and getting into drugs. I got so angry when he stole my rent money one day I didn’t want anything to do with him. 

I started disliking myself and the dysfunction of my life. I ended up drinking, contemplating suicide, tricking with prostitutes, anything so I didn’t feel alone. My depression got so bad I said to my dad, “I’ll be back,” and disappeared and never returned to know anything or his whereabouts’. I was hurting, as the years went by I never heard from anyone. I was truly a hermit. I thought I would die in an alley by myself.  

I asked God what I did to deserve my fate. I drifted from the South Bronx to all over New Jersey, eventually Philadelphia. Until very recently, the last time I saw my dad was Thanksgiving 2004 where he cried because he happy to see me. I was so out of it mentally I didn’t care I was getting high and drunk tricking my life away. The last time I saw my brother was in a rehab treatment center where we both, by coincidence, were going at the same time. I was still sick.  

I eventually drifted to Washington thinking I might end my life in at least a decent gutter. July 4 2007.  

I tried the archives building in Washington a few times, found a few names of my relatives but never called them I was scared. I eventually ended selling newspapers for Street Sense I started not being homeless and met people who liked me. But I was still empty and alone and was still drinking. I stopped getting high and chasing women but I was alone.  

This holiday I thought it would be more of the same misery. Till one day I was out selling my papers and met a church group from Barnesville, Ohio. I remember the conversation I told them I haven’t seen my relatives in almost 20 years.  

They went to Cambridge and called my Aunt Carol. She called me and I took the bus to Ohio this Christmas. I saw my relatives I was so happy to see them. I went to Zanesville to see my fathers side of the family. I had two family reunions one in Cambridge Ohio and another one in Philadelphia. I called my grandpa who is 92.  

[Read More: My Life, Part One: “This Wasn’t the Cosby Show”]

Jeffery McNeil regularly puts on a suit to sell Street Sense. Email him at [email protected] 

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We believe ending homelessness begins with listening to the stories of those who have experienced it.